He beat on the screen door. “Will somebody open this?!” Unlike most men, he didn’t leave his hard hat in his truck, took it inside his home, and he had it in his hand. His body was dry now, at least it wasn’t like it was two hours ago at work, when he wrung his T-shirt of sweat, made it drool between the fingers of his fist, he and his partner making as much of a joke out of it as they could. That’s how hot it was, how humid, and it’d been like this, in the nineties and hundreds, for two weeks, and it’d been hot enough before that. All he could think about was unlacing his dirty boots, then peeling off those stinky socks, then the rest. He’d take a cold one into the shower. The second one. He’d down the first one right at the refrigerator. “Come on!” Three and four were to be appreciated, five was mellow, and six let him nap before bed.
“I didn’t hear you,” his wife said.
“Didn’t hear me? How couldn’t you hear me? And why’s it locked anyways? When I get here I don’t feel like waiting to come in. Why can’t you leave the thing unlocked?”
“Why do you think?”
“Well don’t let the baby open it. I want this door open when I get home.” He carried on in Spanish, hijos de and putas and madres and chingadas. This was the only Spanish he used at home. He tossed the hard hat near the door, relieved to be inside, even though it was probably hotter than outside, even though she was acting mad. He took it that she’d been that way all day already.
Their children, three boys, were seven, four, and almost two, and they were, as should be expected, battling over something.
“Everybody shut up and be quiet!” he yelled. Of course that worsened the situation, because when he got mad he scared the baby, who immediately started crying.
“I’m so tired,” he muttered.
She glared at him, the baby in her arms.
“You know sometimes I wish you were a man cuz I wouldn’t let you get away with looks like that. I wouldn’t take half the shit I take from you.” He fell back into the wooden chair nobody sat in except him when he laced the high-top boots on, or off, as he already had. “You know how hot it was today? A hundred and five. It’s unbelievable.” He looked at her closely, deeply, which he didn’t often do, especially this month. She was trying to settle down the baby and turned the TV on to distract the other two.
“It’s too hard to breathe,” he said to her. He walked bare footed for the beer and took out two. They were in the door tray of the freezer and almost frozen.
“So nothing happened today?” she asked. Already she wasn’t mad at him. It was how she was, why they could get along.
“Nothing else was said. Maybe nothing’s gonna happen. God knows this heat’s making everybody act unnatural. But tomorrow’s check day. If he’s gonna get me most likely it’ll be tomorrow.” He finished a beer leaning against the tile near the kitchen sink, enjoying a peace that had settled into the apartment. The baby was content, the TV was on, the Armenians living an arm’s reach away were chattering steadily, there was a radio on from an apartment in a building across from them, Mexican TV upstairs, pigeons, a dog, traffic noise, the huge city out there groaning its sound—all this silence in the apartment.
“There’s other jobs,” he said. “All of ’em end no matter what anyways.”
It was a job neither of them wanted to end too soon. This year he’d been laid up for months after he fell and messed up his shoulder and back. He’d been drunk—a happy one that started after work—but he did it right there at his own front door, playing around. At the same time the duplex apartment they’d been living in for years had been sold and they had to move here. It was all they could get, all they were offered, since so few landlords wanted three children, boys no less, at a monthly rent they could afford. They were lucky to find it and it wasn’t bad as places went, but they didn’t like it much. They felt like they were starting out again, and that did not seem right. They’d talked this over since they’d moved in until it degenerated into talk about separation. And otherwise, in other details, it also wasn’t the best year of their lives.
He showered in warm water, gradually turning the hot water down until it came out as cold as the summer allowed, letting the iced beer do the rest.
She was struggling getting dinner together, the boys were loud and complaining about being hungry, and well into the fifth beer, as he sat near the bright color and ever-happy tingle of the TV set, his back stiffening up, he snapped.
“Everybody has to shut up! I can’t stand this today! I gotta relax some!”
She came back at him screaming too. “I can’t stand you!”
He leaped. “You don’t talk to me like that!”
She came right up to him. “You gonna hit me?!” she dared him.
The seven-year-old ran to his bed but the other two froze up, waiting for the tension to ease enough before their tears squeezed out.
“Get away from me,” he said trying to contain himself. “You better get away from me right now. You know, just go home, go to your mother’s, just go.”
“You go! You get out! We’re gonna stay!”
He looked through her, then slapped a wall, rocking what seemed like the whole building. “You don’t know how close you are.”
He wouldn’t leave. He walked into the bedroom, then walked out, sweating. He went into the empty kitchen—they were all in the children’s room, where there was much crying—and he took a plate and filled it with what she’d made and went in front of the tube and he clicked on a ball game, told himself to calm down and let it all pass, at least tonight, at least while the weather was like it was and while these other things were still bothering both of them, and then he popped the sixth beer. He wasn’t going to fall asleep on the couch tonight.
Eventually his family came out, one by one peeking around a corner to see what he looked like. Then they ate in a whisper, even cutting loose here and there with a little giggle or gripe. Eventually the sun did set, though that did nothing to wash off the glue of heat.
And eventually the older boys felt comfortable enough to complain about bedtime. Only the baby cried—he was tired and wanted to sleep but couldn’t because a cold had clogged his nose. Still, they were all trying to maintain the truce when from out side, a new voice came in: SHUT THAT FUCKING KID UP YOU FUCKING PEOPLE! HEY! SHUT THAT FUCKING KID UP OVER THERE!
It was like an explosion except that he flew toward it. He shook the window screen with his voice. “You fuck yourself, asshole! You stupid asshole, you shut your mouth!” He ran out the other way, out the screen door and around and under the heated stars. “Come on out here, mouth! Come out and say that to my face!” He squinted at all the windows around him, no idea where it came from. “So come on! Say it right now!” There was no taker, and he turned away, his blood still bright red.
When he came back inside, the children had gone to bed and she was lying down with the baby, who’d fallen asleep. He went back to the chair. The game ended, she came out, half-closing the door behind her, and went straight to their bed. He followed.
“I dunno,” he said after some time. He’d been wearing shorts and nothing else since his shower, and it shouldn’t have taken him so long, yet he just sat there on the bed. Finally he turned on the fan and it whirred, ticking as it pivoted left and right. “It doesn’t do any good, but it’s worse without it.” He looked at her like he did earlier. “I’m kinda glad nobody came out. Afterwards I imagined some nut just shooting me, or a few guys coming. I’m getting too old for that shit.”
She wasn’t talking.
“So what did they say?” he asked her. “At the clinic?”
“That I am.”
They both listened to the fan and to the mix of music from the Armenians and that TV upstairs.
“I would’ve never thought it could happen,” he said. “That one time, and it wasn’t even good.”
“Maybe for you. I knew it then.”
“You did?”She rolled on her side.
“I’m sorry about all the yelling,” he said.
“I was happy you went after that man. I always wanna do stuff like that.”
He rolled to her.
“I’m too sticky. It’s too hot.”
“I have to. We do. It’s been too long, and now it doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter,” she said. “I love you.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, reaching over to touch her breast. “You know I’m sorry.”
He took another shower afterward. A cold shower. His breath sputtered and noises hopped from his throat. He crawled into the bed naked, onto the sheet that seemed as hot as ever, and listened to outside, to that mournful Armenian music mixing with Spanish, and to the fan, and it had stilled him. It was joy, and it was so strange. She’d fallen asleep and so he resisted kissing her, telling her. He thought he should hold on to this as long as he could, until he heard the pitch of the freeway climb, telling him that dawn was near and it was almost time to go back to work.
© Dagoberto Gilb
"Shout" appears in the anthology Sudden Fiction Latino, edited by Robert Shapard, James Thomas and Ray Gonzalez, published by W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. This electronic version is published by kind permission of the editors and the author. It originally appeared in the author’s collection, Woodcuts of Women.
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Dagoberto Gilb is the author of seven books, most recently the novel The Flowers (Grove Press). "Shout" first appeared in Woodcuts of Women (Grove Press). Stories this year have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and Callaloo. Gilb spent most of his adult years as a construction worker and a journeyman, high-rise carpenter with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. He lives in Austin, Texas, and is the Executive Director of Centro Victoria, Mexican American literature and culture center at the University of Houston, Victoria, where he is also Writer-in-Residence.
See also: Me Macho, You Jane from Issue 44